T. C. Pfluger

From Historical Hastings

On the 11th of November 1881, the south coast suffered the effects of a severe gale causing the foundering of numerous vessels. The Hastings & St Leonards Observer of the following Saturday (14th) carried the story of the grounding of the vessel which is quoted in full here[1]

The storm also caused the foundering of the Nerissa and extensive property damage.


The T. C. Pfluger off St. Leonards

The terrific gale of Wednesday [11th November 1881] last was felt in its fiercest severity at Hastings. We have experienced terrific gales, and recently too, but never in the history of the oldest inhabitant has the wind attained to awful strength it did Wednesday. One does not thoroughly understand the tremendous power of this wind until one sees the sights many witnessed on Wednesday last. Crowds stood and laughed to see women and strong men clinging to lamp-posts at corners, but when a chimney pot, dislodged from its cement bed, was dashed to the ground, and shattered into a thousand pieces, the laugh was suppressed. The gale of Wednesday last will long be remembered by all who ventured out it, especially by those who journeyed to Bopeep, and watched, or helped in, the saving of the poor Germans whose fine vessel went ashore, despite all their efforts to weather the frightful storm.

As a rule, Hastings is not often the scene of such heartrending sights that always accompany a shipwreck, but this is probably owing to a fact which many people have witnessed, and yet, at the same time, not quite understood. Far out to sea, to the west of the town, and not far from the Sovereign Lightship, a CRUEL BELT OF ROCK connects as it were Beachy Head with some point on the French coast.

For large vessels this is at all times by no means safe to cross at places, and so to avoid any risk of shipwreck certain passages are used outside the Lightship. The observant individual will notice that he can descry the craft on the east of him from the Parade much plainer than on the west for the simple fact that the farther west they travel the farther out they go to avoid the Diamond Shoals. The vessels bound up Channel well as those going down take the passage outside the Lightship, and consequently, should the weather prove very boisterous, and the craft become unmanageable the nearest point they drift on the shore is either just this side or just the other side of Dungeness. By this our readers will see why it is Hastings is seldom the scene of shipwrecks, and why the Ness, Littlestone, Dymchurch, Hythe, and Sandgate lifeboats are so often called to perform those acts of bravery which any Englishman are proud to acknowledge.

The gale commenced late on Tuesday night, and about four o'clock on Wednesday morning it blew "great guns." Soon after five o'clock, a large barque was discerned drifting under bare poles toward Bexhill, and, as far could be seen in the grey, misty light, her anchors seemed as they were unable to hold her; but by 5.30 the Coastguards were satisfied that she was riding in safety, held by two cables. At six o'clock she appeared nearer, and with the awful force of wind and sea, she very slowly but surely neared the shore. The news that a ship was in great danger flashed along the coast from Pevensey like wildfire, and by eight o'clock the Coastguards at Pevensey Sluice, Bexhill (and stations between), St Leonards, and Hastings were making all haste to Bopeep, where it could be seen the vessel would strand, providing the wind kept up.

In the meantime, the St. Leonards men had made every preparation, at six o'clock, three powerful horses were harnessed to the rocket waggon, to be soon afterwards conveyed across the small strip of beach. At 9.30 the vessel, a grand craft began to sway dreadfully.and then it was noticed that she was DRAGGING HER ANCHORS, the crew all being congregated at the helm. The heavy seas repeatedly struck her with violence that not only were her decks washed every few seconds, but the spray mounted high into the rigging, completely hiding the men from view temporarily. However, the cables, despite the great strain on them, remained firm, but slowly, though surely, the drifted round; and stuck on a bar of sand about 300 yards from the shore. Just before she struck the rocket apparatus had been fixed, and, with a whiz, away went the first fiery messenger, but strong was the wind that fell abort by about 150 feet. A second and third also fell short.

At ten o'clock the lifeboat was seen turning by the Grosvenor Mansions, but a long interval elapsed before the "Charles Arkcoll" reached the beach. When it did, however, the ropes attached to the carriage were immediately seized by a number of those who crowded the foreshore, and, amidst the cheers, of thousands gathered around, was dragged across the intervening space to a spot under a breakwater about 300 yards to the windward of the ship. Eager hands helped to place tho carriage into position, and more volunteers got ready to pull on the slide ropes at the proper signal. In a brief - very brief - lull away went the craft amidst the cheers of the onlookers, and if a good launch went for anything the boat DESERVED BETTER LUCK than befell it.

No sooner had it breasted the first two or three waves than the wind not only retarded its progress seaward, but drove it rapidly to eastward beyond the line of the vessel. Seeing they could not accomplish their purpose, an anchor was thrown out in the hope that one of the crew might catch the buoy which the stranded mariners, had thrown overboard with a line attached, but here again the force of the wind was so great that the tide was not strong enough to carry it to shore.

The old sailors on the beach had predicted that the lifeboat would never reach the ship, and the oars were doubly manned in consequence, but to no avail; strive how they would the efforts of the crew were doomed to failure. That the gallant fellows tried there is no denying, and therefore every praise is due to them. While all this had been going on the Coastguards had not been idle, and rocket after rocket had left the stand, some to fall a few yards from the land, others to mount up and so close to the rigging that failure seemed an impossibility, yet then falling short just as they seemed but a few feet away from the side.

All this kept the onlookers in a FEVER OF EXCITEMENT until Chief Officer Cox, sheltering his tripod under a breakwater, placed a shot right in the rigging of the foremast. The cheers which greeted this success after eleven failures can be better imagined than described. There was not a man who didn't shout, and not a single person who did not feel relieved. In less time than it takes to write it, two of the crew scaled the ratlines, mounted the stays, and secured the line, while those on shore seized the iron tripod, ropes, whips, and blocks, and placed them in position, opposite the boat. With apparent difficulty, the men on the barque hauled in the rocket line, to the end of which a whip and block was attached. All went well until the block appeared in mid-air, when it was found that the strong sea had twisted the ropes together.

In response to the signals from shore, two men crawl out and slid down the cross-tree ropes, and thus, suspended in mid-air, commenced the laborious task of unwinding the coils. After about an hour's delay it was freed, and with a few steady pulls, the block was made fast high on the foremast When all was secure the hawser was drawn out by those on shore, but how the whip managed to stand the tremendous strain on it we ure unable to state.

In vain the Coastguards asked the volunteers to be less eager, the orders of both the Captain (the Hon. J. Needham) and. Captain Moore being regarded as nought. Those boatmen and others who treated the advice of the Captain with ridicule, and added further that "he didn't know what he was talking about," must have been perfectly unaware of the dangerous manner in which they were TOYING WITH THE LIVES of those on the stranded barque.

All the hope they had of safety, as it appeared then, was on the stability of a cord about as thick round as a man's little finger, and where the help of 25 men was more than sufficient about 150 were tugging and straining at it. No wonder that the officers felt anxious for the crew. However, the hawser was soon connected, and after being braced the "breeches buoy" was suspended. This buoy consists simply of ordinary life buoy, to which canvas attached, through which the legs of the occupant are thrust The "cradle," sometimes called, was soon hauled out the ill-fated craft, and place rang with cheers as a seaman was seen to enter it to be pulled ashore.

His journey for the first part was through mid-air, but as neared the shore he was dragged 'THROUGH BOILING SURF, eager hands being ready help him out when within reach. In order to mitigate the sufferings of the already exhausted crew Mr. Peter Jenkins very thoughtfully caused to be erected two very thick scaffold poles. These were braced together at the top and put under the hawser, thus elevating it to a height that prevented the rescued ones from being long in the water. The second man to come ashore brought with him little boy, aged about two years, the son of the Captain. Then more men followed, and when the Captain's wife could be hoisted to the crosstrees the lady was brought ashore in safety.

The work of rescue continued for hours, and at four o'clock all had been landed. The Captain himself with a flag in his hand signalled each time man was safely in the "buoy," but in spite of all precaution one poor fellow sustained severe injury to his leg just before he left the ship. On his reaching the land he was once conveyed to the Hospital. The 'LAST TO LEAVE THE SHIP was the Captain, who, when he was seated, threw the flag away, and loud were the cheers which greeted the brave fellow.

Mr. W. Gallop, the local agent of the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society, took the unfortunate sailors, to the "Wilton Home of Rest" where hot drinks and substantial food were given them, through the kindness of those in the Home. The men, fine built fellows, seemed very grateful for all the kindness shown to them, and our representative gleaned from one that the of the barque was the J. C. Pfluger[a], bound from San Francisco to her home at Bremen. The voyage had lasted 145 days, and terrible weather had been experienced throughout. The vessel was registered at 1,000 tons, and we were told that they signalled Lloyd's station on the Isle of Wight on Tuesday. The crew numbered 15, not including the steward, the captain (H. Krusi), one passenger (embarked at Honolulu), the Captain's wife, and two children. The vessel carried a general cargo.

Those who watched the proceeding, could not fail to be struck with the heartiness shown by the rescued men as they waved their hats on nearing the shore, and also the indomitable energy displayed by all who were helping. Coastguards, boat men, clergymen, tradesmen, fishermen, in fact, some representatives, of every grade of society in and around Hastings, were on the spot ready to assist, and those poor German sailors will take back to their children a tale which will long be told over the winter's, fire, how the men of Hastings, from the Viscount to the humble fishermen, braved a terrific storm to help them in their distress.

The barque, after striking on the bar of sand, has been washed, still bow on, across the sand to beach, where she lies now deeply imbedded in the loose shingle and sand. Her rudder has been carried away, and the stern post wedged open, that there must be at high tide a considerable depth of water in the hold. The Captain still awaits orders from Bremen, and has persistently refused all offers to tow the ship off until he hears from the owner. The crew, since Wednesday, have worked hard to render the rigging and spars as secure as possible, and all the top masts have been lowered and braced up. A little the west of the barque, the rough water has exposed to view a large number of trunks of submerged trees, which for ages have been covered up by the sand and sea, and not rocks, as has been reported.

We understand that effort will be made on Tuesday next to haul the craft off, the loss of all its anchors and chains rendering this impossible before. Four tugs will be used, and should the effort prove successful, a sum of 1,000 guinea, will be paid; if, on the contrary, the barque is not moved, the tug owners will not receive any payment whatever.

The vessel was later refitted as a barkentine and sailed under the name Coronado.

Subsequent Reporting

Image from Illustrated London News

After several attempts during the past week to float the stranded vessel at Bopeep a successful one was made at the early tide on Friday morning, and at daylight yesterday not a vestige of tbe barque could be seen. On two occasions the Dover tugs were in attendance, but their efforts, although not exactly fruitless, showed without a doubt that she was so deeply imbedded in the sand and beach that unless she was freed from the shingle nothing would dislodge her. Consequently, on Friday, about forty men were engaged to shovel away the beach and sand, and having made a deep trench all round, the tug had a comparatively easy job, and just at high water, amid the cheers of the workmen, out went the J. C. Pfluger into her native element. The vessel was towed up to Tilbury Dock, on the Thames, where, we understand, she will be repaired. The crew left Hastings yesterday for the Sailors' Home in Dock-street, London.[2]

Some excellent photographs of the Pfluger were taken by Mr. Bradshaw, of Robertson-street, notably the attempt to float the barque made on Thursday morning. The production shows one tug and also the people on the beach watching the proceedings. An exceedingly good photograph has also been taken by Mr. Gardiner, of Verulam-place, showing both the tugs at work. The picture is most effective and clear, which is highly creditable considering the difficulties under which the photographer was obliged to work. In the current number of Black and White is an illustration depicting the scene at the stranding of the Pfluger at Bopeep, produced from a photograph taken by Mr. Godbold, of White Rock-place. The representation is a very admirable and complete one, showing the flight of a rocket from the beach with remarkable clearness. We may also mention that a sketch of the wreck at Hastings, from a photograph taken by Mr. Bradshaw, appeared in last Saturday's issue of the Daily Graphic.[2]


  1. The JC Pfluger had been built at Sunderland in 1874 and named Waikato, but had been sold to a German company and renamed.

References & Notes